After the Blackhawks defeated the Predators 3-0 in game four of their first round series, it was easy to feel deflated. A win would have sent the Predators back to Chicago needing just one win in three game to secure the series. Instead, it is now a three game series with two of the games at the boisterous home ice of the Hawks.
It is important to look honestly at these first four games to determine the Predators chances against a very good opponent. Here is my view of some of the critical aspects of this series and how the teams compare.
Play on the ice
On paper, the Blackhawks are a vastly superior team with an explosive offense that is capable of lighting up an opponent.
The game is played on the ice, and here the Predators have more than held their own. In the series, the Predators have outscored the Blackhawks 8-7. More importantly, the defense and the goaltending of the Predators has done a good job of limiting the scoring opportunities and effectiveness of the big guns of the Blackhawks. This series points out the validity of the the Predator way- building a team from the net out. Pekka Rinne has been solid and the defense has overall been very good. There is no doubt that the Hawks have talent in the offensive zone, but the Predators have done a good job of limiting the scoring threats from the Hawks' stars.
Offensively, the Predators have gotten strong play from unlikely heroes. David Legwand has stepped up his play in this series. Joel Ward, Steve Sullivan, and J.P. Dumont have had their moments. The Predators have to have improvement in two key areas: power play and scoring from some of the big guns.
The Predators power play is a woeful 0-fer. This has to improve as the Predators have had ample opportunities with the man advantage. Chicago will take penalties and the Predators must make them pay for their transgressions.
Scoring has to come from Jason Arnott, Colin Wilson, and Marty Erat. This is the top offensive line for the Predators and they have been invisible throughout this series. For the Predators to win this series, these guys are going to have to generate some offense. Three games, boys. Three games to step up and play like you are capable.
It was apparent early in this series that the Hawks would try to out hit the Predators and take them out of their game. Instead, the Predators pounded the Hawks into submission. The Predators have brought the thunder in the hitting department, and in the fourth game of the series, the Hawks were not inclined to hit very much. The Predators have to continue to pound the Hawks with discipline and intensity to take them out of their game.
The Predators have stayed in this series with heart. Chicago has won with talent. When the Predators play with heart, the Hawks cannot beat them. Call it work ethic if you want, but heart will win out over talent every time. We have seen the talent of the Hawks wilt when faced with the force of the Predators heart. The Predators are going to have to play with heart, laying it all on the line in the next two games. If they do, then good things will happen.
The Blackhawks have been practically giddy just to get this series tied. From the word go, the Hawks have been a favorite to get to the Stanley Cup Championship. Great expectations are a heavy weight, Win this next game, Predators, and the Hawks will skate in game 6 with refrigerators on their back. Take the fight to them and watch them grip their sticks a little tighter. No one expected you to be here, and no one expected you to put up this kind of fight. As gratifying as that is, it is not enough. Seize this opportunity and defy expectations. And make the weight on the backs of the Hawks a lot heavier.
Is it a stretch to think the Predators can win this series? I think not. Sure, the Predators have to play sound hockey. When they have, they have won. When they haven't, they have given the game to the Blackhawks. It will take a solid effort on the ice and playing with heart to capture the next game. We have to outwork, outhit, and out-character the Blackhawks.
It can be done.
And we can defy the expectations.